At first it felt like an RPG strike. In Afgan we’d been told of a Chinook pilot who’d survived such an attack, the grenade exploding moments before its target. The door gunner had somehow hit it mid air, but he’d paid the price, a scrap of shrapnel from the shoulder fired launcher shredding through his neck, missing his body armour. Dead because he flinched left, not right.
It was only as I swung us around that we saw it was fireworks rising from the ground. I set about scouring for the target, the air between us showered by colourful exploding sprays. I pivoted the door side-on for Spicer to take his aim. It wasn’t long before I heard through my ear, the poor infected bugger was laid to rest.
What happened next is still unclear, but turning away, heading to sweep up the remains of our last targets, there was an explosion in the rear, the world went black. Another ignition came soon after. There was no way James could have survived. The next few moments barely registered. My scolding hot world rolled around as if I was in a tumble dryer, then hit in the face, I was out cold.
I woke upside down, couldn’t move my neck. Must have blacked out a second time as I released my straps, not realising the consequences. Crumpled in a heap on my head, I struggled to my feet, couldn’t hear anything but a deep ring in my ears. Stubbs was dead, a length of metal protruding from his right eye, arms handing down from his side, blood falling in a steady stream.
The upside down cabin was mostly empty. Spicer gone, the mount for the MG still in place on what was now the roof, but the weapon itself nowhere. Stumbling out of the door, I saw the scattered contents of what had been inside, where we’d rolled, the grass crushed, mud churned.
The world was swimming before me, nausea rising and falling in waves, my feet not stepping where I asked, not correcting as they placed. Wiping my face with the sleeve of my flight suit, it came back red, a dark contrast against the olive green. I touched my forehead and blood ran down my hand, let go and the warmth covered my face, spreading like warm chocolate from a fountain. Soon parts of my sense regained, and I recalled how I’d come to stand with the world upside down. Thoughts turned to the reason I had a gun strapped to my thigh and remembered we hadn’t taken care of them all. Head swaying under the weight of my helmet as I bent, I slid the Glock from the holster, pulled back the slide and took my first steps onto the solid ground.
First things first, I had to find and pay respects to my friend.
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